Metro Weekly

Phoenix city councilman under fire for allegedly homophobic comments

Michael Nowakowski says he "misspoke" in videotaped comments referencing progress on LGBT rights

Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski (Photo: Facebook).
Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski (Photo: Facebook).

A Phoenix city councilman has said he will not resign after a video emerged in which he makes comments about same-sex marriage and the right of transgender people to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

Michael Nowakowski issued an apology and vowed to continue fighting to make Phoenix an LGBT-inclusive city, the Associated Press reports.

“I am sorry for my statements,” Nowakowski said in a press conference on Thursday. “I take them back and I’m sorry for the pain and the hurt that I caused people. I misspoke during an emotional conversation about a subject that’s very important to me, which is prayer. I believe that love is love.”

The reason the councilman’s comments come as such a surprise is based on his political record. Nowakowski previously marched in the city’s gay pride parade, was a speaker at an HIV/AIDS vigil, and voted for Phoenix’s 2013 nondiscrimination ordinance, which included protections for transgender people in public accommodations, including bathrooms. Similarly, when Arizona’s ban on same-sex marriage was overturned in 2014, Nowakowski celebrated the decision, The Arizona Republic reports.

In the released video, which was posted to YouTube, Nowakowski is shown addressing a group of pastors while speaking about public prayer at city council meetings. In that clip, Nowakowski says: “I never thought I would see the day that men and men would be married. Or where people are allowed to go into the same bathroom as my daughter. The world is changing, and it’s time for us to take the leadership and change it back to the way it should be.”

In a statement posted on his Council website, Nowakowski said that as a practicing Catholic, he finds it hard to personally reconcile his stances on legislation before the Council with the teachings of his religion. He also said that the reference to “change it back to the way it should be” was referencing bringing back public prayer, rather than rolling back LGBT progress, as some have suggested.

“My record shows that I have voted to protect our diverse community, giving an equal voice in government to all,” the statement reads. “My future voting record will continue to protect the rights of the LGBTQ community, regardless of any church teachings or proclamations. No government official should force or impose any religious doctrine on others in the public square. I believe in respect for personal civil liberties and protecting all people from discrimination in public and the workplace. That hasn’t changed.”

Despite his apology, Nowakowski’s comments sparked criticism from the chair of the Phoenix Human Relations Commission, who suggested that Nowakowski may have killed or failed to support pro-LGBT measures “behind people’s backs.” Mayor Greg Stanton, a fellow Democrat, also threw Nowakowski under the bus, saying he was shocked by “such homophobic views.” Other Democrats on the Council followed suit, and Arizona’s largest private sector union has said it will no longer support him.

But Justin Owen, the executive director of Phoenix Pride, said that while Nowakowski should be held accountable for his statements, the LGBT rights organization is not calling for Nowakowski to resign.

“I would want to have a conversation with him before I could make a specific statement that he 100 percent doesn’t represent constituents and the community,” said Owen.

Support Metro Weekly’s Journalism

These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!